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A spare, vocal union

August 07, 2009|David Ng; Philip Brandes; David C. Nichols; Charlotte Stoudt

"Franz Schubert: His Letters and Music" provides exactly what the title says, no more, no less. On a mostly bare stage, soprano Julia Migenes sings 17 of Schubert's lieder while an actor (Jeff Marlow) recites the composer's private correspondences to his friends and family.

If the concept sounds dry and anti-dramatic, it often is. But this strangely satisfying production at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles harmoniously fuses music and words in a way that preserves and even heightens the psychological complexity of its subject. This is a rare stage biography that's smart enough to let an artist's creations speak for themselves.

The production, directed by Peter Medak, has its two performers alternate in the spotlight. Though they don't exchange a word of dialogue throughout the evening, they seem to subliminally feed off of each others' presence, like twin muses or maybe two sides of the same personality.

Migenes' voice is both sultry and nuanced; in terms of projection, she achieves just the right balance for this intimate staging. (She's accompanied on the piano by Victoria Kirsch.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 08, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Groundlings show: A theater review of "Groundlings Space Camp" in Friday's Calendar section included an incorrect phone number for more information. The correct number is (323) 934-4747. Also, the ticket price has been changed to $16.50 plus a $1.50 service fee, rather than $21.50 as noted in the review.

Audiences with prior knowledge of Schubert's life will enjoy the show more, but it's not a prerequisite. This modest production is so simply conceived and elegantly executed that it communicates on a purely spiritual level.

-- David Ng

"Franz Schubert: His Letters and Music," Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. $15-$30. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

End of the world as boys know it

Tales of post-apocalyptic survival are rarely cheery, but even by the genre's downbeat standards Henry Murray's "Treefall" presents a particularly bleak vision.

In its debut production from Rogue Machine, Murray's provocative, if sometimes labored, four-character drama benefits from finely tuned performances and a spectacularly detailed scenic design (by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz) strewn with the detritus of civilization.

Amid a dying world ravaged by global warming, three unrelated teenage boys have banded together in a feeble semblance of a family unit. As they forage for canned food and try to evade the now-lethal sunlight, the three face the hopeless challenge of sustaining a social order severed from any meaning or purpose. Without adults to provide mentorship and continuity, parental responsibilities have prematurely fallen on the oldest, Flynn (Brian Norris), who tries to keep order through ritual, invoking memories of peanut butter or chocolate cake at the start of each meal, or "educating" his companions with books pilfered from an abandoned library. His efforts ring increasingly hollow to August (West Liang), who wants more out of life than their cabin shelter can provide. Adolescent Craig (Brian Pugach) enacts fragments of Shakespeare plays whose meaning he can't comprehend and looks to Flynn for guidance through his emerging sexuality -- with disastrous results.

Their fragile triad is threatened by the sudden appearance of a scavenger named Bug (Tania Verafield). Her disruptive influence triggers the conflicted struggle with sexual identity -- freed from constraints of social norms -- that lies at the play's heart.

Visually and emotionally gripping, John Perrin Flynn's staging employs ample nudity and graphic violence to heighten the intensity, mining frequent actorly moments from a script that covers a lot of redundant territory (quoting lines from "Romeo and Juliet" gets the cultural disintegration point across the first time; return visits are really unnecessary). The writing could be tighter and cut deeper, but "Treefall's" edgy, end-of-the-world vibe effectively drives home its cautionary message about the environmental legacy we're neglectfully creating for future generations.

-- Philip Brandes

"Treefall," Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 6. $25. (323) 960-7774. Running time: 2 hours.

Groundlings aim for high hilarity

The relative fun of "Groundlings Space Camp" will rely on any given night's itinerary of rotating writer-performers. Overall, this latest outing from the irreplaceable improv troupe is an efficient laugh-getter, sporadically graced by high-flying wit.

Following a goofy video PSA and a typically rocking blast from musical director Willie Etra's band, director Mikey Day tweaks the format a bit. The first half is almost all sketches. Most of them land, and some soar. For example, Charlotte Newhouse and the redoubtable Stephanie Courtney savage sitcom grand dames in "AARP" with "SCTV"-worthy zeal. Kevin Kirkpatrick's "The Protector" mines sci-fi hilarity from Toys R Us elements, and his outre crank Fred returns in "Principal's Office," rewardingly teamed with co-author Ben Falcone.

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